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In would-be Palestinian state, a dose of reality

In would-be Palestinian state, a dose of reality

While leaders mount UN bid, Palestinian independence seems like fantasy, what with the struggle to survive on West Bank and a cash crisis posing a risk to Palestinian Authority.

September 21, 2011 11:45 by



…praised by visiting officials.

The authority points at two major differences between the institutions it has built and a similar project led by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the 1990s

Now, there is a transparent system of financial management which has trimmed its reliance on donor support. The new security forces, trained with Western assistance, are helping to prevent violence against Israel.

“We became ready for statehood and independence according to the international community’s criteria,” Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the authority, said.

The World Bank, in a report published this month, said PA public institutions now compared favorably to other countries in the region and beyond — another reason Palestinian officials say they are ready to lead a real country.

LEGITIMACY ON THE LINE

But even as Palestinian leaders head to the United Nations, the PA faces a crippling financial crisis that underlines its fragility.

The immediate cause is a shortfall in the foreign aid which the authority needs to plug a deficit forecast to reach $900 million this year.

The deeper cause is the vulnerability of the Palestinian economy. The World Bank report said Israeli restrictions, which hamper the private sector, need to be lifted to allow the PA to expand its revenue base and sustain its institution-building.

In the last three months, the PA has twice failed to pay its 150,000 employees their salaries on time and in full, damaging its public standing.

Failure to win independence in the next few years will hit credibility further, warn Palestinian analysts. The PA’s critics say its strategy of negotiating peace with Israel has been a complete failure. The continuing failure of the PA and Hamas to bring Gaza and the West Bank under the one leadership — there have been no elections since 2006 — is another problem.

“The legitimacy of the PA is on the line because the Palestinians never envisaged it operating permanently as a large municipality,” said George Giacaman, a political scientist at Birzeit University near Ramallah.

“Obviously this is not enough,” he said. “Without a credible political process, it will collapse.”

In Gaza, Hamas faces its own dilemma as it tries to reconcile its stated commitment to armed struggle against Israel with its responsibilities as a government eager to avoid punishing Israeli reprisals.

LOOKING TO THE ARAB SPRING

In the seaside enclave which Arafat once said would become Singapore on the Mediterranean, an international airport named after him is a relic of his state building project of the 1990s.

The airport today lies in ruins, a fading symbol of an earlier period when there was hope among Palestinians that an independent state might flourish.

Many argue that the time for a two-state solution has passed. Perhaps. But the Arab Spring might provide new momentum. If Arab governments begin to reflect popular sympathy with the Palestinian cause, then Israel could come under more pressure than ever.

“Much more than before, I see possibilities for the future,” Giacaman said. In the short term, though, he agrees with Abdul Rahim Bisharat in al Hadidiya and Barakat that the key is to stay put. “One should expect the following attitude: how to survive, how to remain, because the Palestinians understand this is an important strategic asset.” (Editing by Simon Robinson and Sonya Hepinstall)



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